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Kootenai County commissioners may decide contentious commercial project on Wolf Lodge Bay

UPDATED: Wed., Dec. 11, 2019

This photograph is taken on Tuesday, May 14, 2019 from the Blue Bird viewing area above Wolf Lodge Bay. That area of the shoreline could be developed by North Idaho Maritime to be used as a staging area for docks and dock building equipment. Some have concerns that the development will hurt kokanee salmon spawning beds. There are also concerns that increased traffic on Highway 97 will post safety and quality of life issues for residents. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
This photograph is taken on Tuesday, May 14, 2019 from the Blue Bird viewing area above Wolf Lodge Bay. That area of the shoreline could be developed by North Idaho Maritime to be used as a staging area for docks and dock building equipment. Some have concerns that the development will hurt kokanee salmon spawning beds. There are also concerns that increased traffic on Highway 97 will post safety and quality of life issues for residents. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

The future of a contentious Lake Coeur d’Alene commercial project on Wolf Lodge Bay could be decided Wednesday.

That’s when the Kootenai Board of County Commissioners will hear a proposed zone change for a 0.5-acre shoreline parcel north of state Highway 97.

If approved, the zone change would allow a dock building company to move forward with plans for a bulkhead, pier or dock and possibly a small building for employees to take breaks in.

Kootenai County’s hearing examiner has approved the zone change, after stipulating certain requirements be met.

If the commissioners follow the hearing examiner’s lead, they will approve the zone change Wednesday after hearing public comment. If they decide against approving the project, another public meeting will be scheduled, at which time the commissioners could vote to reject the zone change.

Environmentalists and some Coeur d’Alene residents are concerned the project will damage kokanee spawning beds, disrupt the annual migration of bald eagles and cause traffic problems on the narrow, two-lane highway accessing the site.

John Condon, one of Spokane Mayor David Condon’s brothers, has applied to rezone the half acre, which is part of a larger 108-acre parcel, from a restricted residential designation to a commercial one.

Condon, who owns North Idaho Maritime, would like to use the land as a loading and unloading point for dock building materials and equipment.

There are no plans to have dock storage on the site, according to documents filed by North Idaho Maritime. Any construction done above the ordinary high-water mark will be overseen by the county, anything below falls under Idaho Department of Lands jurisdiction.

“(We’re) most definitely opposed to the zone change in Wolf Lodge Bay,” said Amy Anderson, the environmental programs director for the Kootenai Environmental Alliance.

KEA is concerned that the full scope of the project and its potential effects haven’t been clearly articulated.

“There is issue after issue after issue,” she said.

Despite widespread public concern, the hearing examiner has approved the zone change, with some stipulations.

Those include limits on how many vehicle trips will be made per day, in compliance with Idaho Transportation Department restrictions.

And the project will have to go through an additional county permitting process specific to commercial projects that front state or federal highways. That permitting process would regulate traffic in and out of the site.

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game has remained neutral, as has the Bureau of Land Management. The project site is not in the area where kokanee spawn, according to an IDFG letter filed with the county, although it is near spawning beds.

“It would be speculative at this point to suggest a positive or negative effect from development of the site,” Chip Corsi, IDFG’s regional supervisor, wrote in the letter.

The majority of written public comments have been against the project, said Vlad Finkel, the county planner handling the case. There have been 190 comments opposing the zone change and five supporting it.

The dock has become necessary, North Idaho Maritime said, because finding a suitable place to load and unload material is increasingly difficult as logging and other commercial marinas around the lake close or turn into developments.

Most recently, Condon was using a site on the Spokane River at the old Stimson Mill. New owners closed the access road, prompting the Wolf Lodge Bay application, said Rand Wichman, a planner hired by Condon, in an interview earlier this year.

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